This might be why teachers are “missing in action”

I recently discussed the excellent “Missing in action: teacher and health worker absence in developing countries” in my graduate development class. The authors sent enumerators to conduct random visits to primary schools and health clinics in Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru and Uganda to see if the teachers and doctors were present.  They found that, on average, “19 percent of teachers and 35 percent of health workers were absent.”

Of all the reasons they investigate for why teachers may not show up at school, the researchers forgot to test for the possibility of rampaging wild animals!  That would certainly cause teachers to think twice when deciding whether to go to school.

Here’s a link to a story yesterday from CNN.  The title pretty much tells you the gist of what happened: “3 mauled as leopard wreaks havoc at Indian school.”   The article states that “an estimated 1,500 leopards were in Karnataka state but that they rarely strayed far into urban areas.”  Rarely, but not never! Can’t be too safe.  Here is a picture of the incident:


I guess it’s better to be “missing in action” because you didn’t show up for the day than “missing in action” because you were killed by a leopard!

Is Rwanda a Potemkin village?

Susan Thomson, an assistant professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University had an interesting article recently about Rwanda.  The piece was originally published in the Conversation and re-published by the Huffington Post as “Democracy Rwanda Style: You Can Have any President You Want, As Long as Its Paul Kagame.”  While the main gist of the article didn’t come as any surprise, there was one nugget in the article that I found intriguing.  Thomson writes:

“Kagame devotees are quick to point out the country’s economic successes, using reports produced by the Rwandan government itself to back up their claims. In recent years, the World Bank has indeed found Rwanda to be among the easiest countries in Africa in which to do business. But in 2006, when the same World Bank found data that did not support the narrative of economic growth in Rwanda, that data was destroyed and the foreign researchers were expelled. Since then everything from the World Bank on Rwanda has been positive. Suppressing dissent knows no bounds.”

She links to a paper by Bert Ingelaere called “Do We Understand Life after Genocide? Center and Periphery in the Construction of Knowledge in Postgenocide Rwanda.”  It’s a fascinating paper and work checking out in full, but here are some of the parts that I found noteworthy.

a.  There is a Potemkin village aspect to Rwanda where the state carefully manages how much access researchers have to villagers as well as the villagers behavior and thoughts (at least the ones that are voiced) about progress.  One anecdote involves the government trying to make villagers look less poor by wearing shoes.  Ingelaere writes:

“Not wearing shoes means exclusion from public places such as markets and being turned away from official government functions. Yet peasants often do not have the financial means to adhere to this rule, and sometimes end up in the local cachot (jail) as a result. Obligatory fines of 10,000 Rwandan francs are not adjusted to the circumstances of rural life, and thus the only strategy for regaining freedom is to borrow money from family and friends, resulting in debt and more poverty.

Another strategy is to follow the spirit, if not the letter, of the policy and participate in the project of image control. During fieldwork we noticed men and women walking to official gatherings and carrying their shoes on their heads. The purchase of new shoes as required by official policy had represented a serious investment, and these possessions had to be handled with care. Only when approaching the area where government officials were located (sometimes in the company of foreign visiters inspecting a “project” or some other “developmental” initiative) would they put on their shoes. Then, after the meeting and out of sight of the eyes of the state and the foreigners, the shoes would be removed and placed back on the head.”

b. The story on the World Bank data is a bit more complicated.  Rwanda was to make up one of many countries that the Bank was studying to chart Amartya Sen’s “expansion of freedoms,” where development is measured by more than just income, including things like “the exercise of basic rights, and the success or failure of democratic institutions in different countries.”  You can tell from that quote that the Rwandan government was not going to be pleased with the results.

After six months of surveying Rwandans, the government put a stop to the study:  “The Rwandan security forces seized at least half of the data on the pretext that ‘genocide ideology’ lurked in the research design and study content. Rwandan participants were questioned by the police, and foreign researchers implementing the study were summoned by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). After a long period of negotiation between high-level World Bank representatives and several Rwandan ministers and other government officials, the decision was taken to destroy all the data and abandon the research project altogether.”

Alrighty then…I guess the Bank got the message.

Bolivars on a plane!

Actually, according to the WSJ, 36 cargo planes of the Venezuelan currency has been shipped to Venezeula in recent months.

See, when your inflation rate is somewhere between 300 and 700%, the domestic printing industry (like most other industries in Venezeula) cannot meet the government’s demands.

“The central bank’s own printing presses in the industrial city of Maracay don’t have enough security paper and metal to print more than a small portion of the country’s bills, the people familiar with the matter said. Their difficulties stem from the same dollar shortages that have plagued Venezuela’s centralized economy, as the Maduro administration struggles to pay for imports of everything”

And, as is customary in these Latin-American inflationary spirals, things are heating up even more.

“In December, the central bank began secret negotiations to order 10 billion more bills”

You may ask yourself, didn’t the opposition win a super-majority in the legislature? How come these Chavista shenanigans are still going on?


“The president in late December changed a law to give himself full control over the central bank, stripping congressional oversight just as his political opponents took control of the National Assembly for the first time in 17 years. “

Here is a snapshot from the WJS about the evolution of prices of consumer staples in Chavezlandia over the past year:


Screenshot 2016-02-04 07.27.41

People, repeat after Angus, “The rule of law is mighty #@$% thin reed”





Keep on Truckin’

This just in: Hamas got tanks!

Oh wait, it’s more of a Jamas tank situation.

Looks like its actually a pick up truck with fake tread and wooden armor.



Y’know I actually wish all tanks were like this.  Maybe we could get Hamas to manufacture all the tanks, bombers, drones, submarines, etc for the entire world.




There is a class at the University of Kentucky called “Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the US South.”  A syllabus typically includes a statement by the professor about what he or she hopes the students will learn in the class. In an interview, the Taco Literacy professor (Steven Alvarez) gives what might be the best all time class objective:

“At the very end of the course, my students will be generators of knowledge, have a portfolio full of multimedia food journalism, and they will be over the fajita stage of Mexican food.”

As for the books for the class, they look awesome too. Here is his description of the readings: “Our first book is Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food. Then we have the Tacopedia and Taco USA. Lastly, a book solely on tortillas called Tortillas: A Cultural History, because I try to break down to my students that a really good taco will always depend on the tortilla.”

Here is a link to the Taco Literacy website.  It is one of the most creative and fun class websites I’ve seen (granted, this is a low bar, but still…).  Each square is a click-able link to that day’s discussion. Some of my favorites are:  “The Tamale Trail of ….Mississippi,” “Sombreros and Mariachis,” and “Taco Literacy Around the Nation:  You’re famosos

You gotta love a syllabus that has this disclaimer all in caps!  “THOUGH TACOS ARE EXPLICITLY NAMED IN THE COURSE, THEY NEED NOT BE THE FOCUS FOR YOUR RESEARCH.”

I teach a class at OU called Mexican Economic Development.  While it has drawn a fair amount of students, imagine the number that would have enrolled had I taught Taconomics instead!

Can solar let poor people “leapfrog” the grid?

Short answer: not really.

Cell phones were/are a big success in allowing poor people in the developing world to get first world service without requiring a traditional “land-line” infrastructure.

But most solar installations for the poor in the developing world are pretty low power. They don’t run bigger appliances.

Also, we at CG have just learned that the sun doesn’t shine at night!

At our house we have a solar array that is powerful enough to run the all our appliances and provide all our energy needs. It cost $15,000! It’s tied to the grid so we don’t need to worry about the night time power issue, but on our own, we’d need one or two of those new Elon Musk Powerwall storage units, say another $7000.

That cost structure is just not going to work in the developing world.

As things stand, there is still no cheap, good, substitute for an electrical grid. What the linked article calls “real electricity”.

And while many of us worry about the environmental effects of increased carbon based electricity production, it’s good to remember that a lot of folks without electricity are burning kerosene for lighting or running generators to power appliances.

What’s really going on with Zimbabwe?

The FT has an interesting piece on Western governments’ new attitude towards Zimbabwe.  They write that “Zimbabwe is close to striking a landmark deal with western multilateral institutions that would see it clear billions in arrears of unpaid debt, access new funds for its troubled economy and end more than 15 years of international isolation.”

I find this odd.  Why are Western governments suddenly so eager to work with a pariah state like Zimbabwe to get back in the good graces of the international community?  As Nelson Chamisa, an opposition MP, noted, “re-engagement would “embolden the dictatorship” and weaken the opposition. ‘Zimbabweans cannot understand why there’s been an easing of the pressure . . . Nothing has changed.'”  Indeed, nothing has changed on the surface.

Mugabe is 91 years old and there will clearly be a change of power sooner or later.  The article mentions that but it still isn’t obvious to me why the change of heart.  Zimbabwe owes the IMF over $100 million and it has been in “continuous arrears” since 2001.  And that’s just the beginning.  It also owes the World Bank about $1.2 billion and $600 million to the African Development Bank.

Western governments tried to pressure China to pony up new loans to help Zimbabwe out but they wisely said no deal.  Somehow the new negotiations involve Algeria lending the dysfunctional government $900 million.  I’m not even sure where to start with this.  Why is  Algeria, a very poor country, loaning another poor (and poorly managed) country $900 million?  How does Algeria even have that much money just laying around that it can loan it out?  And what do Algerians have to say about the worst loan idea ever?  Clearly the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have a stellar track record on loan repayment, so why would any government want to loan them more?  Especially an underdeveloped one that could obviously use those $900 million at home.

So what’s really going on here?  Is Algeria being pressured to loan this money?  If so, why?  If not, what are they expecting as a reward for doing so?  They clearly aren’t loaning the money altruistically or in expectation of huge financial dividends.

Does anyone have any ideas or backstory to this news?